Humans around the world have long displayed a thirst for power, sometimes in a literal sense. Powering virtually every aspect of daily life, the origin of our electricity is thus one of the biggest talking points in modern times. Today, approximately 84% of the world’s energy needs come from oil, gas, and coal – aka fossil fuels.

So what do the big three energy giants have in common? They are, by definition, nonrenewable resources that contribute copious amounts of pollutants into the atmosphere and onto the surface of the Earth. For its part, coal is considered the most harmful among fossil fuels, in terms of carbon emissions.

On the surface, a push towards renewable energy makes plenty of sense when you factor in the environmental benefits. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple, and the issue of renewables spans well beyond climate change alone. The global push towards renewable energy is also geopolitical, involving human rights, international trade agreements, and the raw material manufacturing industry.

Let’s explore the impacts of fossil fuel dependence around the globe, and the changes that are being made to help facilitate a worldwide shift away from finite resources in favor of sustainable energy.

Energy and Politics Across History

Long before the advent of Edison’s revolutionary lightbulb, energy and politics have been intrinsically linked. That connection isn’t always apparent, however, and environmental concerns have typically taken the back burner in the political arena. Generally speaking, early energy policy focused on the financial interests of the industry, keeping consumer costs low while maximizing profits.

In the U.S., fossil fuels were largely unregulated until the late 1970s, when politics got in the way, and the concept of environmentalism first hit the scene. During the winter of 1977, Jimmy Carter was president, and Americans were facing a shortage of both natural gas and crude oil. The shortage was primarily fueled by unrest in the Middle East, notably Iran, the largest supplier of crude oil throughout the world at the time.

Seeking a viable alternative to an unstable crude oil market, the Carter administration established the U.S. Department of Energy, which oversees national power production and helps set environmental standards. Alongside the increasing governmental interest in energy production methods, a similar mindset could be seen among American citizens. While the inaugural Earth Day event was held in 1970, it wasn’t until the Iran conflict, and the gas shortages that spawned from it, that the nation took a larger interest in sustainability.

Renewable Energy is a Geopolitical Issue
Renewable Energy is a Geopolitical Issue. Photo by Thomas Richter on Unsplash

Renewables on the Road: the Future of EVs

Despite what we know about the environmental benefits of renewables, big oil isn’t going away any time soon, but some of us are more reliant on fossil fuels than others. According to NPR, the transition to alternative energy is effectively stagnant in the U.S., as major companies such as Chevron and Exxon Mobil continue to shy away from renewables. Conversely, European companies are eyeing lofty targets in renewable energy production and hope to reach a total of 100 gigawatts produced annually by 2030.

In terms of renewable energy, the automotive industry is making strides of its own. Electric vehicles (EVs) offer a sustainable alternative to the gas-guzzlers of the past, and they’re more popular than ever. What’s more, today’s EVs and ever-evolving automation tech are helping to re-ignite America’s passion for cool cars, report the automotive experts at Capital One.

We’ve come a long way since 2012 and the release of Tesla’s sophisticated Model S, which is widely hailed as the world’s first “desirable” EV. By the end of 2024, consumers can expect to see no less than 100 EVs on the market, ranging from SUVs to pickup trucks and compact sedans. It is hoped that such a prolific EV market can help forward-thinking states like California, home to some 27 million licensed drivers, to reduce emissions on a large scale.

Public Health Considerations Related to Renewable Energy

Of course, all of those EVs have to be charged somehow, and it’s here where gaps exist in terms of environmental impact and the overall power grid itself. Unless your EV is completely powered by renewable energy, sourced from the sun, wind, or hydropower, it cannot be labeled as “zero emissions.” Further, the production of EV batteries isn’t exactly sustainable, and much of the global supply originates in China, a country with extremely relaxed environmental standards.

However, the consensus is that EVs do best in cities, which is positive news considering how many of us live in urban areas. More than 56% of global citizens make their home in cities, which rank among the most polluted places on Earth. Data from the United Nations (UN) indicates that urban dwellers are responsible for a full 60% of global greenhouse gas emissions. As such, city residents and policymakers alike must do their part to promote green energy policies and technology like EVs, to help mitigate the damage caused by climate change.

Key Takeaways

To many proponents of sustainable energy, renewables may serve to improve public health on a global scale, by reducing harmful emissions that pollute our air and water. Yet the situation is a complex one, as energy production is historically tied to global policy and economics, rather than sustainability.

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